Japanese Street Fashion

While considered by many as daring, outlandish and provocative, Japanese fashion has come a long way from being just about kimonos and school uniforms. Their eye-popping and flamboyant outfits have largely been influenced by Japan’s huge underground club scene. Tokya and Osaka is where Japanese Street Fashion is at its best. By adopting a mixture of current and traditional trends along with foreign and local labels, Japanese youth have created their own unique blend of fashion.

Japanese street fashion has a variety of trends and styles. Youth were more elaborate in their dressing patterns and make-up. Bright colours, eccentric patterns, hand-made garments, heavy jewellery, mixing and matching jeans and tank tops with traditional wear like kimonos, is their way of making statements about their cultural influences and way of life. Lolita, Kogal, Cosplay, Ganguro are some of the most sought after styles that Japanese youth display on the streets.

Lolita is a style with many subcultures, such as Punk Lolita, where chains, beads, lace and wristbands are popular accessories along with pink and peach colour prints. Gothic Lolita focuses on styles emerging from the Victorian age such as dark colours, black make-up, heavy brooches, and ribbons.

The Ganguro art of dressing is similar to North American youth trying to replicate tanned and blonde celebrities and models. The look consists of light or dark tanned bodies, bleached or dyed hair, summer dresses and platforms. Their exaggerated looks and outfits, is their attempt at westernizing themselves dramatically.

The Kogal style is where young Japanese women display their wealth through various tastes in music and fashion. Wealthy parents often support young girls who are into this style. They keep themselves up-to-date with Japan’s ever-growing mobile technology. They adorn themselves with big boots, skirts pinned very high, dramatic make-up and the latest in American fashion brands. Many see the growth of Gothic Lolita to be a reaction to the materialism desire that emerges with the Kogal trend.

Costume Play, shortened to Cosplay is a trend where dressing of characters from manga, anime, fantasy movies and videogames is encouraged. The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and The Matrix series are some Hollywood films which increased the popularity of Cosplay artists. Japanese youth styled in Cosplay attires are often seen at various public gatherings such as amusement parks, nightclubs dedicated to like-minded dressers and many high profile Cosplay parties.

Muschu Island – Paradise Or Japanese Hell

We had discovered the bones after a landslide had exposed a cave, whose entrance had previously been covered by a cave-in. The Headmaster at St. Xavier’s High School, Brother Patrick Howley, had immediately sent off the tags and some transcriptions of the Japanese writing we had found, but it was several months before we heard anything back about them.

It took the form of an elaborate letter, embossed with many seals and characters, which in perfect English, firstly thanked us for our return of the artifacts, but more importantly, for our preservation of the remains of the soldiers they identified.

They went on to ask if they might send a delegation from Japan to retrieve the rest of the artifacts, and to give the bodies a proper funeral. They explained that it was of the highest importance to the families of these men that they receive this final tribute of respect, and went on to ask if they might be permitted to send a Shinto priest to perform the ceremony.

That evening, we sat around in the brother’s library, on the second floor of the monastery. Although I was not a monk, I shared the monastery with them occupying a small roof on the main floor, and had joined them for a cool drink, and some after-dinner discussion about the letter we had received.

Brother William Borell, our resident scientific expert, seemed to have no doubts that we should allow them whatever accommodations we might have available, and welcome them to the Island. “It is our Christian duty to offer them our hospitality, and it is our human duty to give their families the peace they deserve after so long. You have no idea of the dishonor and humiliation that they have been subjected to, by the loss of their sons, in an unmarked grave. They would have been forced to live in shame.”
The general discussion seemed to agree with Br. William, but Br. Pat, who had lived on Kairiru longest, brought up something that none of the others had thought about.

“We need to ask the locals about how they would feel about it first”, he said, sipping his nightly Glenfiddich. “There are still a lot of hard feelings on Kairiru, especially in Kragur, on the North side of the island. The Japanese had caught some of their people and treated them very badly, and they haven’t forgotten it. We need to have a Kebung (meeting) with the men on this side, and then get over to Kragur to talk to their men also. I don’t need to remind you that there are no Japanese Trade-stores in Wewak yet, and Japanese tourists rarely come here.”

This more or less tabled the discussion for the evening, but Br. Pat went on to tell us what he knew of the occupation.

“There were over a thousand troops stationed here on Kairiru, manning the anti-aircraft guns and submarine base at the eastern tip of the island. The placement of the guns allowed them to guard the aerial entrance to Wewak, and the geography of the sea-bottom there made it possible to approach very close to the island before surfacing. A natural bay granted them a hidden harbor for refueling and rearming”.

My own father was a veteran of the war in Europe, so by now, I was enthralled in the story, and I questioned him more about the events that went on then. He took another sip of his whiskey, and then lit a cigarette, drawing deeply and thoughtfully, while gripping it with the cigarette close to his palm, as he often did.

“Yes, mate, there was a helluva fight around here, and the Japanese forces in New Guinea surrendered right there at Wom peninsula, not 20 km away on the mainland. In fact, there’s a Japanese Freighter sunk in the strait, right off Big Muschu, as well as lots of other remains of the war lying around in the bush.”

I had been to the small monument commemorating the men who died on Kairiru, located on the beach near the wharf at St. Xavier’s. There, mounted in concrete, and regularly painted grey to keep them from rusting away, were a heavy machine-gun, and a mortar launch. Simple lettering in the wet concrete at the base read, “To those who fell on Kairiru Island.” At the time I hadn’t thought much about it, but now I felt like I needed to go back and look at it again.

As the school generator puttered to silence, and Pat got up to head for his room for the night, he added, “The worry we have now is the unexploded ordinance the Americans dropped all over the island, especially in the swampy areas on this side. They sank into the mud, and haven’t likely all been found yet. The villagers of Bruniak found one a few years ago, and the boys uncovered one in a new garden we were making last year, both very much alive and dangerous. The army had to come out and set them off, bloody exciting!”

With that, he headed off to bed, and so did I, but I lay thinking about what it must have been like for the poor men back then. After a year on Kairiru, I couldn’t imagine what it must have been like without Antibiotics. Cuts, scrapes and bites got infected almost as a matter of course, and I had gotten a number of them myself. It seemed that only antibiotics could stop the spread of infection, and I had unfortunately seen some rather horrific cases of ulcers that had gotten completely out of hand, on both students, and villagers. I drifted off to sleep with the images of misery in my mind, and a little thankfulness that I was born in my own time.

Over the next couple of weeks, in Papua New Guinea fashion, Br. Pat organized and hosted Kebungs on both sides of the island, and sought the reaction of all the Big (important) men of Kairiru. Of course, this meant providing all the food, and as much drink as he could afford, which truly wasn’t much, being a monk. Everyone at the school chipped in a bit, and somehow it was enough so as not to embarrass anyone, and at the same time, get the job done.

Strangely, it was not the men of Kragur who objected to the Japanese delegation, so much as the men from Dagar on our side of the Island. It turned out that there had been payback made by the men of Kragur, whose relatives had been killed by the Japanese. Before the Americans were able to round up all the survivors on Kairiru, the men of Kragur had hunted them down in the bush, and killed many as they tried to evade the bombing and the Americans. They felt that their debt had been paid.

One “Big man” from Dagar, on the Southwest part of the island, got up and talked for a long time. I spoke Pidgin quite well by then, but it took me a while to understand what he was referring to.

It seemed that just before the Japanese were taken off the island by the Americans, a group of Japanese soldiers had raided the village gardens above Dagar, and while doing so, one village man had been killed, and his wife had been raped by the soldiers. This story became more relevant, when he finally finished by telling us that this woman was still alive, and that she had given birth to a boy afterward, who was definitely half Japanese. When he was pointed out to me, I recognized a man I had seen before while I treated villagers at the Aid post, but I had not spoken to him, as he had not required any medical help.

Now, the real problem became evident. This young man claimed the right of payback for the death of his “father”, the husband of his mother, but his real father was the man who had raped his mother!

After this became clear, Br. Pat stood up in the center of the circle gathered around the village. Assuming the Melanesian style of oration, he first repeated what had been said by all the other Big men who had spoken, and agreeably complimented them on their wisdom. Then he turned to the young man in question, and spoke to him directly, which is uncommon in a Kebung. He spoke only in Pidgin, but what he said was simply this.
“If you want, I will write the Japanese Mastas, and ask them what payback will they offer for the death of your father Uliup, and also the offense against your mother, but what will you do if they refuse? You know, if you make trouble for them, you will have to go to court.” With this final pronouncement, Br. Pat returned to his seat on the ground, and unconcernedly took out his Trade-store Cambridge cigarettes, and carefully passed out one to each Big Man at the circle.

While he was doing this, the young man nervously got to his feet and stood waiting for his chance to speak. Br. Pat whispered to me that normally such a young man without status in the village would not speak at a Kebung, so he was waiting for permission from the Big men.

Indeed, this was true, as after he had popped a betel nut in to his mouth, an old man near the center of the circle, wheezed out in Pidgin, “Whusat man I gat Tok?” This was basically a challenge to declare himself, what status he had, and what right he had to speak.

“Name blong mi Shaku”, he began, giving his name. After that, he began in halting English to speak to the group, but mainly to Brother Pat. He told how he had grown up as a half-caste in the village in his uncle’s house. His life had been very hard. His mother had grieved many years for his father, as no payback had been made for him. The Japanese had gone, never to return, and after he had grown up and understood, he only wanted justice for his mother and himself. He told how the priest at St. John’s Seminary on Kairiru had taught him to read and speak English a bit, and through him, he had learned of the Japanese occupation. Now it seemed that there was a chance that they were coming back, and he could ask for payback for his father. Before sitting down, he also promised that he would make no trouble for the Japanese Mastas when they came, but asked if he could meet them.

This little speech was accepted amiably by the men, and consensus was soon reached. Br. Patrick would write to the Japanese and invite them to come to Kairiru, and he would also include a description of the claim Shaku was making, and await their response.

Walking back from Dagar village to the school, Br. Pat told me that he thought that the Japanese would definitely want to settle this issue agreeably, and since they had been so thankful for our assistance, he felt they could come to some sort of arrangement.

The letter was composed and sent off, and for a couple of months the whole discovery was forgotten in the day-to-day life of a boarding school with four hundred and fifty students.

Our first notification came in the form of the morning radio broadcast from Wirui Mission in Wewak. Br. Canute cheerily informed us, in his thick Australian accent, that there were, ” aaff a bloody regiment of Nips sitting in the Marist Brother’s Mission house in Wewak right then, waitin’ for a ride out to Kairiru, at the soonest possible time. They’re suckin’ up all me grog, mate!”

Our boat, the TAU-K, normally made at least one trip a week into Wewak for supplies, and as it was just about to leave that morning, Br. Pat and a few other monks went along to greet our guests and accompany them on the trip back out to Kairiru. It was during the “”Talley-O” season at the equator, and this brought a brisk Northwest wind and rain virtually every day for three months, so the trip out to the island can be quite rough and tiresome, as well as a bit nausea-inducing in the choppy seas. It was a 12 meter Aluminum landing-craft, powered by two Volvo-Penta 105 hp marine diesels, with a drop-front loading ramp. It could make good very good speed, but in rough water the constant spray made the trip far from pleasant.

Meanwhile, Br. Bryan Leak, who was deputy-headmaster at St. Xavier’s, supervised a school-wide work day to get the whole place ready for our guests. Br. William, who had been imprisoned by the Japanese in Hong Kong during the war, knew the culture better than anyone, and gave us our best advice.
“Everything must be clean and neat”, he said with authority. “Keep it simple, and don’t forget to bring lots of flowers for the guest house. I remember they loved the Roses in the Monastery garden in Hong Kong, and plundered them mercilessly to give to their girl friends. We have no Roses, but there are many orchids.”

Br. William was a true expert on the flora and fauna of the South Pacific and Asia. He had written a number of scientific articles on the area around Singapore, which have since been published. He later earned a Masters Degree, without examination, from the University of Melbourne in Australia. We all took his advice as usual, and set to work.

The boat didn’t arrive back to the island until just before dark that night, which is always around seven. The travelers were cold, wet, and tired, but not very hungry, since most were a little sea-sick. The wind had been so strong, that they had been forced to take the longer route around the eastern side of Muschu, in order to take advantage of the calmer water on the leeward side of the island. This had turned a two hour trip into a 4 hour trip against the wind most of the way, especially coming up the strait.

As the boat tied up to the wharf, the large group of boys from the school had gathered around it. They spontaneously struck up a loud chorus of an Island welcome song that they all knew, or had learned since coming to St. Xavier’s. This seemed to greatly please the delegation, which waited respectfully on the boat until the song was finished.

There were seven men in the group, all dressed very neatly in either short-sleeved Tropical suits, or white shirts and shorts, with socks and sandals. The one who appeared to be the youngest, stepped forward and said to the assembly, “We thank you for your welcome song, and we also would thank Br. Patrick Howley for his invitation to Kairiru.” With that he bowed formally, and everyone began to help unload the boat, and carry their luggage up the beach to the guest house.

Noticing the small monument off the path, they immediately turned toward it, and having translated the inscription, they knelt in a short prayer. This, the large group of boys that had gathered, witnessed in silence, taking their cue from the monks and others teachers present at their arrival.

Continuing on up to the house we had prepared for them, we were rewarded by much bowing and thanks for their accommodations. They seemed very satisfied that they would all have their own room, and the island-style shower we had rigged up from the tank up higher on the hill, created a bit of a joke, when they realized that it was cold water!

After leaving their luggage, they followed us over to the Brother’s dining room, which was actually a small separate building from the Monastery. By now, they hand got their land-legs back, and with it, regained their appetites too.

Rice and Kau Kau (sweet potato) had been cooked in great abundance, and the cook girls had done something I really liked with the Mung beans which we grew on Kairiru. Stir-fried with Kau Kau (sweet potato), it made a wonderful side dish, and with all the many kinds of fruit for dessert, it was notably the best meal I had enjoyed since coming to Kairiru. Br. Desmond had contributed the main dish of roast beef, which he had carefully hoarded in the cooler at St. John’s seminary, also on Kairiru.

With the monks leading the prayer this time, we all sat down together, and were just about to begin dinner, when one of the men stood up, and through the interpreter, asked if he might be allowed the honor of giving a toast before we began. He appeared to be the senior member of the group, as his hair was completely white, but undiminished in its fullness.

Of course, this permission was immediately given, and reaching into his pack, withdrew a large bottle of Japanese Scotch, top quality. The round of appreciation that this earned, gave him a few moments to compose his toast, while the glasses were filled. Finally, he turned stiffly and faced the east, and raised his glass.

As he spoke only Japanese, I have no idea what he said, but it was very intense and full of emotion. Finishing his toast, he snapped his glass to his lips and drank the libation in one quick gulp, which we all imitated. This formality complete, we sat down, and the dinner began in earnest.

Of the seven men, only the youngest, who had spoken at the wharf, could speak English, and he was there as their interpreter. Now, he rose again to introduce the delegation to the whole group of monks, and the other staff members, like myself, that had been invited. Four of the men, were family representatives of the men whose tags we had found. One was a Shinto priest, and the other, whom we had assumed was the eldest, was a veteran, who had been a Doctor on Vokeo Island, some 40 kilometers to the Northeast. He was amazingly fit and healthy looking, and I had noticed his agility when disembarking from the boat.

I had a flash of imagery what he might have looked like as a young medical officer thirty years earlier, and was somewhat lost in thought, when my turn at introduction came along.

When I stood to tell them my name, and where I was from, they made exclamations of surprise when they heard that I was from Canada. The Doctor told us he had been to Canada, and travelled to Banff National Park, and also attended the Calgary Stampede a few years before. He seemed to have been much impressed with the beauty of Banff and Canada in general. He went on to tell us quite a story, via the interpreter, about how he and his family had spent three days on a ranch in Alberta. They had gone on a trail ride into the mountains, and he got quite excited in describing a Cinnamon bear they had startled in the bush.

I was most pleased however, by the way he ended the story by saying what a wonderful place Canada was, and how friendly everyone had been to them while they travelled. I somewhat shyly assured him that the people of my province, Saskatchewan, would even outshine Alberta for hospitality, and that what we lacked in mountains, we made up for in breath-taking open spaces, and thousands of crystal clear lakes, teeming with fish.

The monks soon chimed in with their own recommendations for spots to visit in Australia, and the banter soon led to a lively discussion about a multitude of places and topics. The poor interpreter was barely able to eat dinner, he was kept so busy at his occupation!

They were all tired after a long day of travel all the way from Japan, but more so from the trip out to the island, so they asked if they might be excused. They had informed us that they intended to begin the funeral service at dawn the next day, and that it would take up most of the day. Br. Pat assured them they would be afforded as much privacy as possible for their ceremony, as the next day was a school day. He had requested that no one use the soccer field that lay adjacent to the small monument on the beach, where they intended to perform the service, and the villager’s market day, normally held nearby, wasn’t scheduled for that day.

We all retired for the night, but I noticed that the kerosene lights in the guest house remained on till long after the generator fell silent at ten. I fell asleep to the sound of what seemed like chimes ringing down below, and it steered my dreams into some uncomfortable territory that woke me several times.

The next morning dawned unusually clear and calm for the rainy season, and the morning deluge down the slopes of Mt. Malangis had ceased early. By seven, when the school bell rang for breakfast, the steam was rising off the lawns and the sun was so bright it hurt. As I dressed for breakfast, I heard the sound of a big gong ringing down from the beach. The normal roar of the waves on the beach was much subdued, and I could also hear chanting at intervals.

Walking down the path from my house on the hillside above the school, I could see that our guests had already built a large funeral pyre out of the driftwood that the boys had collected for them, as part of our preparations. As yet, it remained unlit, but I could see wisps of smoke coming from the several braziers they had placed around the site.

The day was a busy one for everyone at the school as usual, and we never noticed their activities until just before school broke for lunch, when the boy’s attention was drawn to a large column of smoke rising from the beach. The flames leapt high above the pyre, and were clearly visible from the classrooms. The smoke billowed energetically upward for more than a hundred meters, and then was carried off to the east by the Tally-O wind, which had picked up over the day.

New Guineans do not cremate their dead, and this led to a number of discussions with the boys that afternoon during work in the gardens, as we all did, ten hours a week. They were very curious as to why the Japanese would want to destroy the bones of their Timbunas (ancestors), when they should take them home and keep them, as they do. I tried to explain a bit about Shinto Buddhist ideas to them, but they were mainly just glad that the bones of the soldiers were gone.

They had been carefully stored in Br. William’s cupboard in the Science room, and many boys had been afraid to go into that room, even while Br. William was there! Now, at least, their spirits wouldn’t come around to bother anyone. I bowed to their convictions, and went on with my hoeing.

By the time work was over at 5:30, we saw that the ceremony at the beach was complete, as the site had been vacated. We all headed off for a much anticipated shower and a rest before supper at seven. As I passed the monastery, Br. Bryan Leak called me over to ask if I might have some nicer clothes for dinner that night. It seemed that the Japanese delegation had asked if they might make a special presentation that evening, and we were to all gather in the library upstairs in the monastery after dinner. I decided to wear my best Canadian clothes, jeans!

We all seemed to rush through the evening meal, in anticipation of what might be in store later. By the time sunset had necessitated the lights be turned on, everyone had assembled in the main room of their library. Br. Pat was resplendent in his Pilipino shirt and colorful Lap Lap, wrapped island style around his waist. He had even trimmed his beard!

We all sat quietly holding our drinks, which poured condensation in the tropical humidity, while the Japanese men came in to take their places. They all bowed formally to us before sitting, while the Doctor and the interpreter remained standing.

He began by thanking us once more for all our hospitality, and also the respect they had been given to complete their funeral services. Then, he asked us to come together to the balcony of the monastery, where we could see large pile of the cargo they had brought with them, stacked beneath a blue tarp below on the lawn.

At his signal, two of the boys gathered around had pulled back the tarp to reveal and amazing display of goods. These were gifts sent by the families of the dead soldiers, and also the Japanese government, we were told. There were cans of many strange and interesting foods, and a multitude of electronic gadgets, from Tape decks to amplifiers and cameras. There were many items that were obviously for the boys, and they set up a great cheer when it was explained to them. When this was distributed with the assistance of the head prefects in the school, we all returned to our seats, as the Doctor seemed to have something else to say. After first refilling our drinks from his supply of Scotch, we once again waited for him to speak.

He began very softly, facing the ocean, and told us his story. I will retell it now, as best that I can.
He had been transferred to the sea-base on Vokeo Island in June of 1944, and he had been one of the thousands of others who had been rounded up by the Allied forces after the surrender of Japan. He had been brought to Muschu Island, along with some 9 or 10 thousand other men, and left there for three months, before they were repatriated to Japan.

As we listened, it seemed to me that he must have considered himself lucky to have been spared, when more than two hundred thousand of his countrymen met their end in New Guinea. I was wrong.

Muschu is a smaller coral island, located between the mainland and Kairiru, and it has none of the naturally occurring springs of Kairiru, nor does the soil support the rich vegetation found on volcanic islands.

By this time, he held his glass with a shaking hand, and his voice became emotional. The interpreter sat looking down at his sandals, quietly translating each phrase as it was spoken, and we were all cast in a spell of silence, broken only by the buzzing of the night insects.

As he turned to finish his story, I could see that tears were streaming down his face, although he remained in control of himself. He told how the Americans had left no guards on the island, only PT-boats patrolling around it night and day. There was no escape, as all the tribes on the mainland were against them, and the local people had been taken off the island.

The men had eaten every living thing on the island, right down to the coral, and also hunted the reefs out as far as they could, but there just wasn’t enough food and fresh water for so many men. In the end, they had turned on each other, and he was only one of 900 men who survived. At this point he was so caught up in emotion that he had to stop for a minute. I have never forgotten his last words in the many years since.

He said, “Our men did many bad things in the war, but they weren’t the only ones.”

After such an outpouring of openness, it seemed that there was nothing to do but sit silently and grieve a little for his poor comrades. Br. Desmond, the spiritual leader of the monastery, suggested we all say a little prayer for the men whose bones we had found, and all the men who had lost their lives in the war, both Japanese, and otherwise.

The gathering politely broke up soon after that, and as I walked back up the hill with another teacher, we talked about the evening. We had both spent many happy hours snorkeling and swimming on the reefs of Muschu, which had no muddy streams to interrupt the coral. As we parted, we had to admit that it would never seem the same again.

The surprises weren’t over however, as we were about to learn the next morning. We awoke to the sound of Kundu drums coming up from the village, and soon a procession was spotted coming down the trail. It was Shaku, coming for his payback!

The Seven Virtues Of The Samurai – Why Tiny Japan Became An Economic Superpower In 24 Years!

Historically, many societies have had classes or groups of people who were extraordinary in ways that made them famous or notorious or both, in their own time as well as today.

The largest and probably the most famous of these classes of people were the samurai of feudal Japan-the professional warrior class that ruled the country from 1192 until 1868, during which time they made up from ten to twelve percent of the population.

The strengths and profound influence of the samurai on Japanese culture and society were based on concepts adopted from a number of philosophical and religious beliefs, particularly Shinto, Zen Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism.

One of the most important of these concepts was the fragility and briefness of life. Of course, all rational individuals become aware of death at a young age, but the urge for life is so powerful that most people suppress this knowledge and behave as if they are going to live a very long time, if not forever. Not surprisingly, this deeply ingrained behavior has extraordinary consequences that are mostly negative.

Judaism, Christianity and Islam all refer to the inevitability of death and use this fact in an attempt to persuade (and frighten!) people to behave in a certain way. It goes without saying that these attempts-often irrational and inhuman-have not been successful.

As contrary to common sense as it might seem today, the only large group of people who fully recognized and accepted the fragility and briefness of life and based their way of living on this knowledge were the samurai warriors of feudal Japan-both famous and notorious for their incredible martial arts skills, their ruthlessness in war, and the equanimity with which they faced death.

Members of the samurai class were taught from childhood that life is as fragile as a cherry blossom that can be wafted away by the slightest breeze, and that they should live their lives accordingly, obeying all of the obligations that made up their world so that they could die at any moment without remorse for having failed to live up to their responsibilities.

Samurai warriors generally followed this philosophy of life with profound diligence for two very simple reasons. First, they were subject to being killed, or having to kill themselves and sometimes their families as well, at a moment’s notice. And second, they believed that if they failed to behave according to the precepts that controlled their class they and their families would be disgraced forever.

The samurai knew that if people were always aware that they could die at a moment’s notice they would be far more likely to follow what became known as the Shichi Toku (She-chee Toh-kuu), or “The Seven Virtues.”

These seven virtues, which were taught as the moral and ethical guidelines of the samurai, became the code of conduct prescribed for them (their “commandments” if you will). They covered virtually all of the areas and topics of human interest and needs, especially those that involved appearance, personal relationships, and living a well-ordered life.

Here are the Shichi Toku in the order of their importance in the daily life of the samurai:

(1)

Kennin (Kane-neen)-

Indomitable Spirit, Fortitude & Perseverance

From childhood, both boys and girls in the samurai class were taught and required to demonstrate extraordinary spirit, fortitude and perseverance in all of the facets of their lives.

This training literally began in infancy, with babies still in arms being instructed in when and how to bow properly, followed by constant instruction in all of the basic elements of a very precise etiquette that included how to dress, how to eat, how to sit, how to dress, how to bathe, how and when to use respect language, to withstand cold without complaining, to withstand pain without flinching, to never give up in anything they set out to do, to get revenge against any insult, and to immediately obey the orders of superiors-including orders to commit suicide.

From around the age of six or seven all samurai boys who were not physically or mentally impaired were required to engage in training in kendō (ken-dohh), literally “the way of the sword” and figuratively fighting with a sword-first using wooden swords or wooden staffs.

This training, overseen by instructors, generally took place every day for several hours, becoming more intense as the boys approached their teen years. Youths were formally and officially recognized as “samurai warriors” when they became fifteen years old, at which time they were required to wear two swords at all times when they were in public-a long sword for attacking others or defending themselves, and a short sword for committing suicide when that occasion arose.

Young samurai who were assigned to military units were required to continue their daily training until they retired from wounds or old age. Those who became administrators, including the highest ministers and the shoguns themselves, continued regular training in kendō throughout their active lives.

All shoguns, vice-shoguns, fief lords, and ranking members of the shogunate and fiefdoms had their own kendō training centers staffed by masters. In addition to their own training, they regularly staged exhibition bouts and tournaments.

The masters in these training centers were invariably middle-aged and older warriors who had gained fame by killing many opponents during their earlier careers, and in numerous cases had developed their own style of sword-fighting that was taught in their “schools.”

Because of the competition and intrigue that was typical among the fiefs of feudal Japan, and the fear of the shoguns that one or more of the fief lords would rebel against them, the training in kendō was taken very seriously by the samurai class.

One example of the lengths to which some samurai fathers went in training their sons in kendō was the practice of having them cut the heads off of several convicts or prisoners to get the feel of it and to be able to do it efficiently.

In one famous historical example of this kind of practice, some ten condemned men were line up in a row and a fifteen-year-old samurai youth was instructed to decapitate all of them one after the other. He rapidly cut the heads off of all of the men except one, saying he was tired and would spare the man’s life.

This was the kind and degree of kennin that was expected and demanded of the samurai, and is one of the facets of the samurai legacy is still very much in evidence in the character and behavior of present-day Japanese.

(2)

Shinnen (Sheen-nane)

Conviction & Faith

The demanding life of the samurai required that they develop extraordinary conviction that their attitudes and behavior were admirable and better than other lifestyles. It also required that they have absolute faith in their ability to succeed in life despite the challenges and obstacles.

Over the generations these traits became so deeply embedded in the character and personality of all Japanese that they developed an extraordinary superiority complex that led most of them to believe that they could do anything they set out to do.

This complex had a powerful influence on Japanese society-aesthetically, economically, politically, and militarily. In some cases this influence was positive; in other cases it was negative.

Some of the results of the negative side of this complex became well-known internationally in the 19th and 20th centuries because of military campaigns by the Japanese against Korea, Russia, China, the U.S., Southeast Asia, and the South Pacific.

On the positive side, the superiority complex of the Japanese, buttressed by unbounded shinnen, led them-more than a thousand years ago-to routinely create masterpieces in their arts and crafts industries; to construct the world’s largest wooden buildings and to develop highly sophisticated earthquake technology that has preserved them to this day; and, between 1947 and 1970, to turn their war-devastated country into the world’s second largest economy.

While the present-day cultural and technological accomplishments of the Japanese would not generally be attributed to a superiority complex, they nevertheless are manifestations of the conviction and faith-and pride-that the Japanese have in their ability to create and innovate…and, in fact, are an extension of their built-in belief that they are a superior people.

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Shincho (Sheen-choh)

Care, Caution, Discretion

One of the paramount characteristics that Japan’s samurai had to develop from a very early age was that of exercising extreme shincho (care, caution, discretion) in their daily lives.

Even when very young it was necessary for them to be extraordinarily careful in the way they behaved toward others because of the demands of their formalized, ritualized and unforgiving etiquette. As they grew older, these demands became even stronger and more encompassing.

There were occasions when something as simple as a failure to bow in the established and expected manner could mean death-sometimes instantly. Giving the “wrong” gift or no gift at all to a high-ranking person could be equally disastrous.

There were innumerable situations in which failure to be discreet could result in the ruin of a person, and sometimes their family as well.

The samurai therefore developed a cultural sixth sense that helped guide them through the intricacies of their system of etiquette-first because it was a matter of survival, and as time passed, because it became a matter of both honor and pride.

Most present-day Japanese, particularly the older generations, have retained much of the traditional built-in shincho reaction in their relationships with others because the level of day-to-day physical and verbal etiquette remains high.

The shincho factor in Japanese behavior invariably kicks into gear when they are dealing with non-Japanese-and the higher the business, diplomatic, and social level of the people involved, the higher the level of shincho that is engaged.

It is therefore especially important for foreigners dealing with Japanese to be aware of this factor in their character in order to accurately evaluate their actions and reactions.

The tatemae (tah-tay-my), or “faade” element in Japanese speech (that I explore in detail in my book, Japan’s Cultural Code Words), is an extension of the shincho factor.

The built-in shincho compass of the Japanese typically results in them concealing their true thoughts and intensions at the beginning of negotiations with a ceremonial faade that is only gradually removed as the dialogue progresses…if the opposing team is aware enough of what is going on to persist in chipping away at it.

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Seigi(Say-ghee)

Righteousness and Justice

Despite the ruthless and often barbaric aspect of the culture of the samurai there was an underlying theme of seigi (say-ghee), or righteousness and justice, in their moral and ethical code.

Japan’s feudal history is, in fact, filled with examples of the extraordinary sense of righteousness and justice of the typical samurai. These examples include such things as demonstrations of goodwill and honesty that go above and beyond what is normal.

I recall a number of such instances in my own early years in Japan in the 1940s and 50s. On one occasion I stayed overnight at a small inn in the Akabane district of Tokyo, and forgot a raincoat there when I left the next morning.

Some two years later, during which I totally forgot about the coat, I went back to the inn. The instant I stepped into the entrance foyer the proprietress of the inn said: “Ah! Mr. De Mente! You forgot your raincoat!”

Many of the historical examples of the manifestations of seigi are far more telling. Among these are common occasions when retainers of fief lords or other high-ranking samurai would become disillusioned with the morality and ethics of their superiors and commit suicide, leaving a message beseeching them to mend their ways; a very powerful way of getting their point across.

I remember at the end of World War II some American businesspeople were amazed when Japanese companies informed them that they would honor prewar payments and other obligations owed to the Americans, even when the American firms had no records of such debts.

In present-day Japan examples of seigi range from ordinary people going to extremes to return lost items to their rightful owners-including wallets containing money-to businesspeople who remain loyal to partners and suppliers even when it is seriously disadvantageous for them to do so.

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Sessei(Say-ssay-ee)

Moderation and Temperance

The conduct prescribed for the samurai was based on aspects of court etiquette that had been imported from China during the 6th and 7th centuries and had become institutionalized and ritualized over the generations, first at the Imperial Court, then from the 9th century on at the courts of domain lords who were mostly excess princes sent out to govern the provinces.

This conduct included the apparel and accessories the samurai wore (which denoted their rank), the style of dressing their hair (which required that a portion of their heads be shaved every morning), the way of carrying their swords, their way of sitting in formal and informal situations, the way of bowing, the way of speaking (in the vocabulary used and in the tone of voice and manner of delivery), the way of greeting people (which varied by their rank), the way of handing something to someone, the way of drinking, the way of toasting someone or an occasion, and so on.

In other words, there was a precise, prescribed way of behavior that covered virtually every aspect of the daily actions of the samurai…to the point that their behavior was a conspicuous and unmistakable demonstration of whether or not they had absorbed all of the features of the samurai culture-and whether or not they chose to follow them.

Choosing not to follow the established rules of conduct was a very serious decision to make, and could have serious and often fatal consequences. Again, Japan’s feudal history is filled with examples of warriors deliberately or unknowingly failing to follow the prescribed etiquette, bringing ruin to themselves and often to their families as well.

There was also a prescribed etiquette for common people, particularly in their interactions with samurai. During the early years of the last shogunate dynasty (the Tokugawa Shogunate, 1603-1868), it was made the law of the land that a samurai could kill on the spot any commoner who failed to show him the prescribed respect. The samurai could then apologize and walk away. This law was known as kirisute gomen (kee-ree-suu-tay go-mane), literally “regretful killing.”

The strictness of the samurai culture resulted in the majority of them being extraordinarily self-restrained in their behavior, not only to uphold the honor of their class but also as a matter of their own survival, since they were extraordinarily sensitive to slights from other samurai and were obligated to take immediate revenge against such insults by killing the guilty individual. [During the Tokugawa Shogunate an edict was passed making it necessary for samurai to apply to the shogunate for official permission to embark on revenge killings.]

Another aspect of the education and training of the samurai was their indoctrination in Buddhism and Confucianism, which taught temperance and moderation in all things.

Obviously, all this is not to say that most samurai were paragons of sessei, but the majority did scrupulously abide by the etiquette prescribe for this class, resulting in a level of temperance that was extraordinarily high by world standards.

The legacy of the samurai inspired sessei has not fared well in contemporary Japan. It is still visible and important in formal situations, but informally, particularly in drinking situations, it is typically thrown to the wind.

Interestingly, the reason why the Japanese have traditionally “let their hair down” when drinking is that throughout the history of the country the only time that people could legitimately and safely ignore the strict etiquette and “be themselves” was when they were drinking-a rule that applied more to commoners than to samurai.

However, during the last two hundred years of the Tokugawa Shogunate during which there were no clan or fief wars to fight, many lower ranking samurai who were often idle (they were forbidden to work), became dissolute and would often get drunk in public, become boisterous and sometimes destructive-including testing their swords on innocent passersby.

This phenomenon resulted in the Shogunate establishing a network of koban (kohh-bahn) or “police boxes” (small sub-stations on street corners that were generally just large enough to hold a desk and two chairs) to help keep unruly samurai under control.

The koban remain a significant part of the present-day police infrastructure in Japan, and many of the contemporary koban in main areas of larger cities are big enough for a staff of four or more policemen.

Instead of being keepers of the peace, however, the primary role of present-day koban policemen is serving as local information centers for people looking for destinations in the area. (Addresses of buildings and houses in Japan do not have anything to do with the streets they happen to be on or near, making it extremely difficult to pinpoint addresses without detailed instructions and/or maps.)

Several other Asian countries, impressed with the concept of the koban, have copied them.

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Jizen(Jee-zane)

Benevolence and Charity

It may be difficult for people who are only casually acquainted with the history of the samurai to associate benevolence and charity with samurai warriors during the long feudal era-as well as after the samurai system ended in the 1870s and the sword-carrying warriors were recast in the uniforms and with the weapons of Western-styled military forces of the day.

By contemporary Western standards much of the behavior of the samurai during both of these periods was, in fact, barbaric and savage. But, historically, it was not any different from the standards that existed in the West during the Middle-Ages, and which did not begin to change until the latter part of the 1800s…the same period when the samurai class was dissolved.

In other words, the samurai of Japan did not have an exclusive monopoly on barbaric and savage behavior. That was a trait that has been common in most societies throughout the history of mankind-and still is in many societies.

The genuine jizen (jee-zane) of Japan’s samurai was mostly overshadowed by their role as warriors, their view and treatment of death-their own as well as that of others-and by their role as judge and jury in establishing and enforcing laws to control the behavior of commoners.

Just as in the West during the same period, torture was a key part of the samurai justice system, and execution methods included those that were designed to be especially painful.

But behind this very real public image, one of the key principles in the indoctrination of the samurai class was the Buddhist concept of benevolence and charity, and it was followed most of the time by most samurai in positions of authority. There are many historical examples of city and town samurai magistrates who were famous for their wisdom and benevolence.

Over the generations of the long samurai era these same jizen character traits became imbued in the culture of the common people, but the drama of the samurai way of fighting obscured the goodwill and hospitality that has been characteristic of ordinary Japanese throughout their history-a characteristic that still persists today and is often so unexpected by foreign visitors that they are astounded.

One of my favorite anecdotes that emphasizes the character and behavior of the typical Japanese involves the famous writer-author Lafcadio Hearn. He went to Japan in the late 1800s on an assignment for an American magazine and was so entranced by the behavior of the Japanese he proclaimed that living Japan was like living in paradise, and remained there for the rest of his life.

Hearn was referring to the refined etiquette of all Japanese, and specifically to the innate hospitality and incredible honesty and goodwill of ordinary Japanese.

But traditionally the Japanese practice ofjizen was more complicated than all this suggests. It was first of all generally limited to members of the exclusive groups that made up society as a whole, and in effect was group-oriented rather than universal.

Outside of these primary groups jizen was generally applied only to those whose goodwill and cooperation were necessary to achieve specific goals-such as government officials, teachers and doctors.

Interestingly, the Japanese have traditionally regarded foreigners as special guests of the country, and have typically treated them with special benevolence and charity. This cultural factor remains very much in evidence today and is one of the reasons why most present-day foreigners in Japan find living there seductive, as Hearn did more than a hundred years ago.

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Kibō(Kee-bohh)

A Life filled with Hope

Despite the many cultural and governmental restraints that limited the options and opportunities of the Japanese prior to modern times, the Japanese were not a morose or morbid people. They had a marvelous sense of humor, loved jokes and puns, and had a variety of celebrations and parties of one kind or another throughout the year.

The Japanese were among the first people to travel widely within their own country for recreational purposes, especially to enjoy the incredible beauty of both the mountain and coastal areas of the country.

And Japan was the first country that had a nationwide network of roadside inns at regular government-prescribed distances from each other that were specifically designed and managed to cater to travelers, virtually all of whom traveled on foot (also by government decree), and were therefore on the road for weeks at a time when traveling long distances.

All of these feel good and enjoy yourself aspects of Japanese culture were manifestations of the fact that the major religions of Japan-Shinto and Buddhism-were based on positive and happy beliefs that included sensual pleasures of all kinds.

These elements in the culture of Japan imbued the Japanese with a sense of kibō (kee-bohh), or hope, that helped them deal with the strict lifestyle imposed by the samurai over a period of nearly eight hundred years-a period during which they served as role models as well as created and enforced the edicts that controlled the behavior of the common people.

As the generations passed, the six other virtues promoted by the samurai gradually impregnated the mindset of all Japanese, and continue to this day to distinguish them from other people.

This is not to infer that all of Japan’s samurai were paragons of these six primary virtues, or to ignore the fact that the definitions and nuances of all of these virtues were based on Japanese values and aspirations, which often differed fundamentally from Western precepts.

But within Japanese society during the age of the samurai the level of ethics, manners, morality and overall behavior was as high-if not higher-than has ever been achieved, before or since, in any other society. And this encompassed many of the most desirable and admirable beliefs and behavioral traits that were part of the Hebrew and Christian traditions.

The overall legacy of the samurai remains today the foundation of Japan’s etiquette, ethics and morality-weakened here and there by the importation of democratic ideals of individualism and selfishness from the West, primarily the United States, but nevertheless visible in every area of society.

The one area of Japanese culture that is the most visible to foreigners, and the one in which they can participate without prior knowledge or experience, is the fun side, the pleasure side, which combined is probably the largest single industry in the country.

WHY JAPAN BECAME AN ECONOMIC SUPERPOWER

In summary, it was the legacy of the samurai spirit that made it possible for Japan to become the world’s second largest economy between 1950 and 1975-notwithstanding the wide-open American market and the billions of dollars the United States government spent in Japan procuring supplies for the Korean and Vietnam wars.

Without the spirit, the perseverance, the will and the pride that had become the hallmarks of the samurai character, it would have taken the Japanese decades to overcome the devastation and loss caused by their defeat in World War II, much less become an economic superpower.

Copyright 2011 by Boy Lafayette De Mente. All rights reserved.